After 30 years in service, Il Farro Caffe Trattoria continues to welcome customers old and new

Italian-born Domenico Maurici from Tropea, Italy, stands in Il Farro Caffe.
Italian-born Domenico Maurici from Tropea, Italy, stands in Il Farro Caffe Trattoria, a restaurant he opened in Newport Beach in 1993 and is still successful today. The restaurant celebrates its 30th anniversary on Sunday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Tucked in between the Stag Bar + Kitchen and Rockin’ Baja Lobster near the Newport Pier, Il Farro Caffe Trattoria has operated in the same location it’s been in since brothers Domenico and Michele Maurici opened it in 1993.

Its interior may look different now after renovations were completed last year, but most things still remain the same as the restaurant approaches its 30th anniversary this Sunday, including its staff and some of its clientele.

“Can you imagine 30 years? What we went through?” Domenico Maurici said, laughing. “We have lots of older customers, but we see the granddaughters and grandsons that come back and even bring their families. We’ve seen kids who were just born and in their strollers and now they’re married. We’ve seen them through their life ... it changes with time. Of course, people move away and move around, but we see them back if they are coming to visit. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Maurici said he’s been in the food industry since he was a teen, having started as a dishwasher when he was 15 at a restaurant in one of the villages in southern Italy. He said he also helped prep dishes with the cooks there, which sparked his interest in the culinary arts and led to his enrollment at a culinary institute, followed by work at other restaurants to learn the tricks of the trade.

After getting a work permit to come to the United States in 1986, he cooked at several restaurants in the area before eventually striking upon the opportunity to open his own restaurant in Newport Beach in 1991.

"Chef O" Oronzo Rosato chats with pleased customers at Il Farro Caffe Trattoria in Newport Beach.
“Chef O” Oronzo Rosato chats with pleased customers at Il Farro Caffe Trattoria in Newport Beach, which celebrates 30 years on Sunday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“The [property] owner said, ‘Well, if you want to try; go ahead.’ So, we made a deal, we opened and, of course, I called my brother. He’s in the same business. Me and my brother worked for the first three years with not one day off. We started out like that and, thank God, we were really successful,” Maurici said.

The Maurici brothers decided to name their restaurant Il Farro, after the ancient grain that’s since been popularized in Mediterranean cuisine. Domenico Maurici said that the restaurant imported farro pasta from small Italian farmers.

“I decided to bring farro in 1991 to the U.S. to distribute and introduce to the restaurants,” Maurici said. “But, of course, that was a little difficult because no one knew of it. It was more expensive than normal [grains] too. But, when the opportunity came to open this restaurant, I decided, ‘Why not introduce this grain as a healthy grain with high nutrition?’”

He said the restaurant initially started with a staff of just four — two people to work in the back and two in the front — but now boasts of a staff of about 15 to 20 full- or part-time workers.

Maurici said some of the dishes on the menu are constants, but that some dishes and specials change every week.

Longtime customer Zen Azuma said he’s been going to the restaurant since 1996 and has always been especially impressed by the sauces used in the pasta dishes. He said he highly recommends the Farrotto con Salsiccia and the Il Farro e Feta, both farro dishes, though the former is cooked similarly to a risotto while the latter is more of a salad.

“Their sauces are really unique, especially their tomato sauce,” said Azuma. “I think they use a more real Italian recipe ... they care about ingredients, flavor and taste. A lot of American Italian restaurants ... overkill the individual flavors with sauce and even though [Il Farro makes sauce], they care about the ingredient flavor.”

 A Valentine's Day special heart-shaped ravioli stuffed with short rib beef at Il Farro Caffe Trattoria.
A Valentine’s Day special heart-shaped ravioli stuffed with short rib beef at Il Farro Caffe Trattoria.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Azuma said he appreciates the wait staff at the restaurant, adding that some of them have been there for a long time, including server Victor Morales, who’s been working at Il Farro for about 14 years.

Morales said he has two jobs and works the lunch shift at Il Farro and has continued to do so because he liked not only the ambience of the restaurant, but the flexibility Maurici offers to meet his schedules and needs. But most of all, he likes seeing the tourists and customers who come through.

“We give you the best service we can. They come over here and come back and that’s happy for us to see them again and again and again,” said Morales. “It’s good when they come over here and ask for me, even if I only work only lunch time. But, I think the people around where I work — the cook, my busboy — they are very nice people so I’m happy to work for them and they work for me.”

While they aren’t going to be organizing a big celebration for the 30th anniversary this Sunday, Maurici said he plans to keep Il Farro open for as long as he can.

“What else are you going to do? Retire? What’re you going to do at home? Watch TV?” he said, laughing. “I have lots of work to be done.”

Domenico Maurici, with staff members Gerardo Lemus, Victor Morales and "Chef O" Oronzo Rosato.
Owner and Italian-born Domenico Maurici, second from left, stands in Il Farro Caffe Trattoria, with staff members Gerardo Lemus, Victor Morales and “Chef O” Oronzo Rosato, from left, in Newport Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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